Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - We Need to Start Over on Health Care

Posted on June 28, 2009

How do we pay for health care? Health care, for most Americans, is a cost that is difficult to afford. It is difficult for most small businesses. Even many large businesses struggle to compete in the world marketplace because of health care costs. That’s why I want health care reform this year. President Obama also says he’s for health care reform this year. The president is going to town meetings and stating what he is for, saying, “Let's do it this year. Let's make sure we cover the 47 million Americans who are uninsured. Let's make sure we can afford it. We do not want more debt." I certainly agree with that. Yet the President has already proposed, over the next 10 years, more new debt than it cost to pay for all of World War II, according to The Washington Post. So I agree with him – we do not want any health care bill that creates more new debt. We do not want a health care bill that puts more new taxes on states as they pay for state-operated health care programs such as Medicaid. We want to make sure that Americans who like their insurance are able to keep the insurance they have. Right now, about 177 million Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance which they like. They like the quality of the health care they get. When we work on health care reform, we should not think only about the 47 million Americans who are uninsured; we want to think about all 300 million Americans – insured and uninsured alike. Americans need health care reform this year. I believe we must have a health care plan that you can afford and that your government can afford, so your children do not get a big debt piled on top of them. We must make sure everyone is covered. And we must make sure that Washington does not come in between you and your doctor. Right now in the Senate committee that works on health policy, we are considering a partial bill (some expensive pieces are still missing) written by Senator Kennedy. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said that in the first 10 years of the partial Kennedy bill, it would add over $1 trillion to the debt. Senator Gregg of New Hampshire, who is the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, has pointed out that once the health care program envisioned in the Kennedy bill is up and going, it would add $2.3 trillion to the national debt over a 10-year period. People in Tennessee and across this country are saying, “Whoa. Wait a minute. This is getting out of control. We need some limits. We know you print money there in Washington, DC, but our children and grandchildren and even we are going to pay the consequences if we do not have some limits on the amount of debt.” I would think the president would say to the senators who are working on this: “Wait a minute, senators. This needs to be something that pays for itself. We cannot add $2.3 trillion to the debt.” I know that there has been a lot of hard work done on the Kennedy bill, but we need to stop and start over even to get close to the president's own objectives. I suggest when we in the Senate start over, we do it in a bipartisan way, and that we include some suggestions actually from the Republican side, which has not been done at all. The president has said he wanted a bipartisan bill, but we have had a completely partisan bill in the Senate. I do not like that. I came to Washington to be a part of solving this big problem. We Republicans have put our ideas on the table, and they are not even being considered. The Democrats who are in charge are being polite in what they say, but their thinking is still, “We have the votes. We won the election. We will write the bill.” As long as that’s the case, I am afraid America will not be better off, and the president's goals will not be met. The Kennedy bill we’re considering now will add more than $2 trillion to the federal debt, have a big new tax for states, stuff low-income people into government programs, and still leave 30 million people uninsured.